In September, a new student publication appeared, Kol HaYeshiva, which, according to its vision statement, describes itself as a “talmidim [students]-run news source for everything emanating from our Yeshiva.”

Its inaugural issue contains an interview with Laizer Kornwasser, a popular and effective teacher in the Sy Syms School of Business, and the publication has kindly granted YU News permission to reprint it here. The text has been lightly edited.


Frum [observant] in the Workplace: Laizer Kornwasser

Interview with Laizer Kornwasser, President and COO of CareCentrix. Mr. Kornwasser graduated from YU in 1992 and Harvard Business School in 1996. He currently teaches a course for Syms Honors Students at both Wilf and Beren Campuses.

Kol HaYeshiva
What have been some keys to success in your career regarding being frum and working? Can you talk a little about what has worked for you over the years?

Laizer Kornwasser
Yiddishkeit [a Jewish way of life] shouldn’t be an excuse, it’s who you are. If you can’t be in the office late on Friday afternoon, you assure people you will be there on Motzei Shabbos [Saturday night after Shabbos] instead and will get the work done by Monday morning. Yiddishkeit is who you are, but it shouldn’t be an obstacle.

Another key is being true to yourself: find where you will draw the line and don’t budge. Be sincere and be consistent. The hardest thing is when people are not consistent. That’s when your co-workers will question your commitment and sincerity.

As long as you are hardworking and sincere, people will respect you for your decisions and you will be able to get things done.

 

KHY
What is an area that you wish you could’ve done better over the years, or had more time for in Yiddishkeit or family life?

LK
Learning a little more. I always had family in mind. I didn’t want to sacrifice my family and be the person looking back at 70 regretting everything.

 

KHY
Let’s say there are three main pillars in a person’s life: work, learning/davening [praying], and family. How do you balance the three and focus on one area at a time?

LK
There are times you need to be good about shutting things down and shutting out everything to focus. But on the other hand, you are living your life, and all aspects of life blend into each other. You don’t really separate Yiddishkeit and work. It should be front and central while working, but the same goes for work. There are very few 9-to-5 jobs. Key is to know your limits and prioritize appropriately. People come out of YU and expect the ideal balance, which is unrealistic. The biggest challenge is when you first start out. Manage your expectations but know your priorities.

My wife was very understanding when I was in investment banking at the beginning of my career. She knew it was a two-year journey and wasn’t my life dream. We were able to work together to make sure that we didn’t sacrifice our relationship, long-term goals or dreams together.

 

KHY
Is there a particular thing in Judaism which has been hard to explain/justify over the years?

LK
Probably some of the “minor holidays”: Tisha B’av, 17th of Tammuz, Simchas Torah. Stuff they wouldn’t have necessarily heard about.

 

KHY
Any stories in which co-workers gave pushback to what you were doing for religious reasons?

LK
Yes, very clearly. I was at a large company and was one of the top 5 senior executives, responsible for a large part of the company’s operations. One Erev Shabbos [Friday], I told the CEO I had to leave. The CEO went onto Chabad.com to see the Zman [time] for candle lighting, then checked on Google Maps how long it would take me to get home. He came back to me and said I had more time and needed to stick around longer. I said, “Sorry, I need to be home before the Zman to prepare for Shabbos and getting home at Zman doesn’t work for me.” As I left, I told him, “If you don’t want me here on Monday, let me know.”

 

KHY
Any areas you think nowadays are particularly hard for religious Jews? In other words, for someone who wants to learn every day for a normal amount and so on. Anything one shouldn’t do?

LK
Starting in any of the service industries, such as investment banking, consulting, or law, where you are at the clients’ calling is the most challenging.

 

KHY
Has it been hard to find time for Mincha [afternoon prayer service] in the middle of the working day throughout your career? Learning?

LK
Mincha is the hardest, hardest, hardest. Very often people will say their schedule is open at the end of the day and it shouldn’t be a problem for Mincha, but then a meeting pops up which you can’t control and the meeting might start two hours before the Zman but it ends up going past the Zman. I tell people it’s sometimes better to daven early b’yechidus [by one’s self] with kavana [focus] rather than roll the dice on being able to make it to minyan later if you anticipate an issue. You never know what will come up. But Mincha is the hardest, hardest, hardest.

 

KHY
Are there any areas you think YU talmidim should prepare for now while in YU? Maybe maintaining a good schedule and so on?

LK
Students need to understand there are tradeoffs and need to manage those tradeoffs appropriately. Life and the workplace are rarely about black-and-white situations. How you will deal with all the gray areas is good to think through now. Students are blessed to have numerous courses and chaburas [learning groups] about being frum in the workplace. Use this time to think about the gray areas and how you will handle those situations.

 

KHY
What was one thing from your time in YU you did a good job taking advantage of? One thing that you wish you would’ve done better?

LK
YU is like a field. You need to decide how much you want to work the field. Some people are at YU Monday to Thursday, while others are at YU 24/7.

It’s chaval [unfortunate] when people run in and out of YU and don’t take advantage of what’s here, whether that’s chevra [friend groups] or potential networking, and obviously the opportunity to be surrounded by Torah all day and night. It’s the perfect place to maximize your business networking and relationships and ability to thrive and enjoy in a safe way.

Spend as much time as possible on campus; don’t run away from it.

I have no regrets. I was here 24/7 because I was an out-of-towner. Maybe my only regret was not going to other people for Shabbos more often.

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